Gilles Couturier, Eldon Cyr and Elmer Pelletier pile out of fishing guide Dennis Randa's van. Joking with one another, they immediately conjure up images of everyone's favorite grandfather -- playfully gruff, full of stories and ready for adventure.
"Sure, nobody helps the old man," teases Eldon, the last to climb out of the van.
"Is it time for your nap? You've been grumpy all day," replies Elmer with a smile.
The three men, ranging in age from 51 to 65, alternate between poking jabs at one another and sharing stories with their vacation host, Mitch Michaud -- a 42-year-old native of the men's hometown who moved to Soldotna four years ago.
"Eldon worked for my grandfather when he was a kid," Mitch explains. "They've told me a lot of stories about him."
The group spends most of the year in a French-Canadian community on the border of Maine and Canada. But they are gluttons for adventure. They fish on the waters of Maine, hunt caribou in northern Canada and, earlier this month, made their first trip to Alaska, spending two weeks exploring the Kenai Peninsula.
"We're sightseeing," said Elmer, matter-of-factly ignoring the irony of the statement. A former construction worker, Elmer was blinded in a dynamite accident in 1979, but he hasn't let that slow him down. After the accident, he went back to college and became a computer programmer -- and he still loves "seeing" new things with his lifelong friend Eldon and brother-in-law Gilles.
As Dennis unloads the day's catch of halibut, hanging the fish on the side of the boat for pictures, Eldon, Gilles and Mitch stand back and gawk. Elmer steps forward, running his hands all over the fish.
"He's got to touch them all, get nice and sticky," Eldon said. "He wants to do everything. He's been feeling everything around."
Though Elmer's blindness offers some challenges, the group is accustomed to traveling with him -- and he is used to living large no matter what.
The caribou hunt in Canada, for example, was a real thrill.
"People say, 'How can you shoot a caribou when you can't see?' I tell them it's hard to miss when there are 500 caribou in front of you."
In one trip, Elmer bagged two caribou.
By comparison, fishing isn't so hard.
"It's not too much of a limitation once you get the hook in," Elmer said. "Dennis told me I did as well as anyone who could see."
"Elmer handled the fishing rod as well as any sighted person," Dennis confirmed. "The only thing he can't do is keep the line away from the motor, and he relies on you for that. To use others' eyes is a plus for him, and that's why he's successful."
But Elmer will say his success comes from attitude.
"The challenge is to try to do as much as I can do myself and with buddies around, I can do quite a bit," he said. "The key is to try to experience as much as you can."
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